The first reference to it is at Joshua 3:16, where the account is given of the miraculous damming up of the waters of the Jordan “at Adam, the city at the side of Zarethan.” Later the record states that at the time of the casting of copper items for the temple, such casting was done in the District of the Jordan, “in the clay mold, between Succoth and Zarethan.” (1Ki 7:46) The clay available in the Jordan Valley contributed toward the feasibility of such copper-casting operations in this area.
Since the site of Adam is generally placed at Tell ed-Damiyeh (on the E side of the Jordan opposite the entrance to the Wadi Farʽah) and since Succoth is considered to be located about 13 km (8 mi) NNE of Adam, these texts would indicate that Zarethan lay on the W side of the Jordan not far from Adam and Succoth. The 82-m-high (270 ft) summit known as Qarn Sartabeh, which is called “the great landmark of the Jordan valley,” is suggested by some as the probable location of Zarethan. (Encyclopædia Biblica, edited by T. Cheyne, London, 1903, Vol. IV, col. 5382) It lies across the Jordan from Adam, at the entrance to the Wadi Farʽah.
This identification, however, is somewhat difficult to harmonize with the description of Solomon’s fifth administrative district as given at 1 Kings 4:12, which refers to “Taanach and Megiddo and all Beth-shean, which is beside Zarethan below Jezreel, from Beth-shean to Abel-meholah to the region of Jokmeam.” Qarn Sartabeh lies much farther S than the other places there listed and not “beside” Beth-shean in the sense of neighboring it. The Jerusalem Bible endeavors to adjust the geographic order of the places listed at 1 Kings 4:12, referring to “all Beth-shean below Jezreel, from Beth-shean as far as Abel Meholah, which is beside Zarethan,” thus relating Zarethan to Abel-meholah rather than to Beth-shean. However, since the reference is to “all Beth-shean,” it doubtless indicates a region rather than the city itself. If Zarethan was indeed connected with the prominent summit of Qarn Sartabeh, it may be that the region of Beth-shean embraced the valley plain around it and extending southward to a point from which Zarethan became visible, thus serving to indicate a separate, but neighboring, region.
Other sites suggested for Zarethan lie E of the Jordan and therefore do not seem to fit the context. Excavations at one of them, Tell es-Saʽidiyeh, produced unusual quantities of articles made of bronze (an alloy formed chiefly of copper and tin), which may confirm the location of Solomon’s copper-casting activity in this general area.